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This Week's Dilemma
I work in a high-tech company and lead a marcom team that produces marketing collateral for hundreds of products for businesses. Which marketing tools are the most effective in a sales cycle, especially when selling to other businesses? How does a company determine which collateral format works best for particular activities, or to target specific decision makers?
—Josie, product manager
Conducting marketing without an advertising budget
I've been asked to promote a product without using advertising, such as in industry magazines and newspapers, and without knowing my marketing budget. I've been told to get creative and submit a proposal. We sell only to end users and have an internal literature department. How do I promote a product with my hands tied?
—Sidney, product manager
Summary of Advice Received
We continue living in a "do more with less" environment, and every department within a company is affected. Don't despair, Sidney. Readers have a few creative ways to deal with a small marketing budget.
- Try free or low-cost publicity ideas.
- Work with customers for ideas.
- Use online tools.
- Hold a contest or offer giveaways.
- Try getting a bigger budget.
1. Try free or low-cost publicity ideas
Dallas news reporter Jeff Crilley has a newsletter and a book that supply free publicity ideas. Geraldine Smythe, business development with Elephant Productions, suggests his book:
I am in the same boat—I sell high-end video production services and the tough thing is that we are in a small market, and it's hard to get new business from Fortune 500 clients who aren't within driving (face-to-face meeting) distance. Traditional advertising doesn't work, and I've had success with other means.
Find trade magazines that cover your industry. Call the editors and contributing writers. Writers of such magazines are underpaid, and taking them to lunch to pick their brains may work in getting a story. I was friendly and honest with one writer by indicating I wanted a way to get the word out. The writer interviewed the owners, who shared their perspective about the business, and photographed our studios—all appeared in print.
Networking is another option, but it means having sincere conversations, not collecting and giving away business cards. Ask others what they need before telling them what you want. Follow up after the event. It takes time, but it works well.
Gwen Palmer, director of marketing at REAL Software, Inc., offers two ideas—media relations and partner marketing:
Media relations means closely reading industry publications, Web sites and newspapers that are likely to include your product in their content. Then provide creative ideas to writers and editors of these to help them understand the value of the product. Creativity is key—come up with catchy ideas to get them interested. Use customer success stories, interesting trends in the market, controversy around your product or your competitors.
Your internal literature department can help—they can create white papers for different uses of your product that you can also provide to the media. You can provide information that no one else can—survey your customers and turn the results into an interesting industry story to give to your trusted media contacts.
Partner marketing involves working with other companies. Are there large companies that you can work with to provide additional value for its customers? For example, if your product helps a larger company's customers do something better and you don't compete, then you can develop contacts within that large company and leverage its marketing staff and budgets to get more publicity for your products. These companies are always looking for unique ways to help their customers be more successful. They want their partners to be successful, and they often have custom literature and publications created internally that need great content.
Your satisfied customers are a great way to promote your product. Are there Web sites, newsgroups, forums or blogs that talk about your products or your industry? Design a program where your best customers watch for ways to include you on those sites. Many times, if you ask customers to do this, they will do it for free. But you can reward them with product updates or low-cost promotional items like gift cards.
Ruth Hunter, marketing manager with Indian Summer Pool & Spa, is in the same situation, and she is trying out an e-newsletter:
It can be constructed quickly and sent out in a mass email with no cost at all, just minimal Web site work. If you have a database of customers, make sure you have their email addresses. Also, direct mail is not expensive. If you do not have a bulk mail permit, use a company that does that service for you. A 5.5" x 8.5" card can be labeled and mailed for just 22 cents per card. There is a minimum of 250. That's cheap, but it does not include the cost of printing.
Another way to market is to go to Chamber of Commerce networking meetings. If you are not a member, joining can include advertising benefits. News releases also offer free advertising. If you have news, send it to local papers, journals and magazines. My last suggestion, host an event like a seminar to draw in customers, which also makes good news releases.
Chalit Limpanavech, dean of communication arts at Assumption University, suggests using the budget to print posters or flyers for posting in locations where a target group is most likely to visit.
Laurie Bick, senior communications consultant with National Starch and Chemical Company, adds her vote for using PR, especially with industry and end-user publications:
After you plan out a strategy of product press releases (based on all of the product attributes, applications and user testimonials you can muster), either take a digital photo of your product or incur the cost for one professional product 'beauty shot' to include with your releases, and post it on your Web site for press access. Your costs are the paper and ink you use. An outside photographer is an additional cost but worth the investment, as the image/photo can be repeatedly used for the product lifetime. If writing is not your strong suit, it is smart to have a freelance writer author the releases while you act as editor and liaison to your internal subject matter experts. Again, this is also cost-effective since you can negotiate cost very effectively.
Industry publications are powerful in helping you build awareness and drive lead generation without advertising. Many publications have a "Product of the Week/Month" feature that you can leverage. The key is to maintain a steady stream of product press releases that contain credible news, features and testimonials that editors can include.
Sanja Vladovic of ASFALTmultimedia.com advises focusing on smaller public relations activities instead of one expensive method. Vladovic says to make a product launch news. But if it is not a new product, invent a reason for making it news.
"Is it the 10th anniversary of product being on the market? Is it the 1,000th piece sold? Contact existing customers and tell them about it; encourage them to recommend your product to their friends," Vladovic says.
2. Work with customers for ideas
Customers are a great resource for publicity and ideas. Nathan Fleming, creative director at redpepper, encourages getting customers to talk about using the product, so you can clearly understand why they use it:
Ask for recommendations on how to improve it. In return for the information, supply them with a complimentary stipend of the product in exchange for the promise that they tell others about it. Brand believers are worth their weight in gold. They own the brand. Give them control, and they will sell it for you.
Eric Van Fossen, creative director with Kleber & Associates, also recommends going to the customers. "Discover what you (as an organization) know about your customers. Are you locally or widely distributed? How are you delighting them and giving them cause to become your industry's ads. Work with an internal literature dept. to improve packaging and instructions."
Greg Davidson, worldwide channel marketing manager at Motion Computing, says one of the best ways to get your product out there is to get others to promote it for you. It could be partners who have a vested interest and customers, who are the best—and worst—source of promotion:
How often do you talk with them? How can you leverage their love for your product to promote it to others? Can you give away product for the best customer usage story or creative marketing idea? Can you develop a referral program whereby users get "paid" for bringing new customers to you or marketing your product on their own Web sites/blogs?
3. Use online tools
The Internet opens many doors for marketing for little or no cost. Joseph Librizzi, regional marketing director, offers a simple, but effective three-step plan.
- Put your product in a premium position on your Web site. Don't bury it behind two or three clicks—it should jump out as soon as the customer arrives. The cost of maintaining your Web site is probably, by and large, a sunk cost and won't require additional funds.
- Get people to your site by making sure your Web site has a high Google PageRank, and that it appears in a top position on other search engines as well.
- Tie purchases to a giveaway. Although your profit per unit will drop, you'll only be spending in response to real revenue versus spending in hopes of achieving X percent ROI, essentially eliminating all financial risk. I've seen rewards from as little as two percent of the purchase price work wonders, but it should be something specifically of value to your customer or something hot right now (think iPod)."
A reader who has been through the same situation has had success leveraging the company's Web site, search engine marketing/optimization and direct mail on a shoestring budget. The reader recommends working with the sales teams and customers to see how they search online for products like yours (identify the keywords that represent your product). She says, "Leveraging that information, you can use online tools in Google, Overture, LookSmart and others to size the search popularity for those terms and determine your needed ad budget."
The next step is to place product ads with the search engines for instant product visibility when relevant searches are entered. These tools are adjustable based on your budget's fixed amount. Of course, more investment equals more exposure.
Take the information from the customer and sales team search-engine test and use the same keywords to optimize your Web site to show up "organically" in search engines. She says, "Organic search engine listings (i.e., non-paid) do not cost you hard budget dollars, but rather are an investment of your time and your Web publisher's to get your site to show-up for relevant searches."
Provide a way for customers to buy or capture their information such as names, email, contact information and interests. Use the responses for following up through email newsletters or direct mail. The reader found that focused, personalized direct mail is the next best way to reach the target market:
I recommend a letter, because it can typically be written and produced in-house (reducing budget needs versus more costly design and four-color production) and executed for little more than the cost of your time and postage. Letters also have had the highest response rate for us over other types of direct mail pieces. We generated 50 percent of the leads that resulted in sales last year from these types of low-cost marketing methods.
Cheryl Gonzalez, owner of EZNetGroup.net, recommends searching for and joining forums and news groups as a way to promote the product, but not blatantly: "The key is to treat it like a community and visit often. People click on sig files (signature at the bottom of the email), so get yours in their face and make sure you use autoresponders to keep information in front of those whom are literally raising their hands."
Greg Davidson says:
Create a blog to generate interest in your product/market/industry. But ensure it provides general value to readers and isn't simply an advertisement for your product. Another thing to try is e-mail marketing. You don't have to use an outside firm or a fancy program to share information with your customers. Are you capturing your end users' emails now? Why not?
4. Hold a contest or offer giveaways
Astraware ran a contest that gave away a gift certificate for use on its products. The contest required downloading a trial version of the game and finding the answer within it. This worked well, because to enter the contest meant trying the game. We got hooked on the game and bought it.
Laura Brooke-Smith, principal consultant with D.Y.B Strategies, suggests partnering with another company:
Find potential businesses to partner with who want to reach your target audience, and set it up so that a purchase of X product results in an entry. Also, add an entry for those who refer people, and if those people that are referred make the buy—that is another entry for the referrer and the referred. This concept creates a buzz and gets people talking about your product and promoting it through word of mouth to others in order to win.
Running this type of promotion will lead to direct sales in a short time frame, and also you can put a percentage of the revenues away for future marketing efforts such as traditional advertising. Furthermore, you are building a database of referred prospects that helps you tailor and send out future campaigns.
Marcus Barber, strategy & foresight analyst, says, "Try a bumper sticker campaign with roving spotters who hand out prizes at random to those drivers. This can promote lots of word of mouth (particularly when good prizes are involved) and can generate lots of extra inquiries from the end users."
5. Try getting a bigger budget
Barber shares a successful method he has used, and encourages clients to use as well, for increasing the budget:
Step 1: Be outrageous in putting together a marketing program. If you've been told to avoid newspapers and trade magazines—no problem! Let's put together a campaign that uses TV and a stunt man jumping out of a plane into a sporting stadium supporting a $100,000 prize giveaway. The required budget for this would be... oh, say, $500,000.
Step 2: Make the BIG PITCH and present this to your bosses with all of the enthusiasm you can muster. Reiterate that you think avoiding the traditional magazines and papers is a great idea, and this is the company's chance to really do something big.
Step 3: Prepare for the response. I've seen senior executives say, "Okay, sounds like a good idea—let's go with it." I've seen senior executives say, "Are you kidding??? This is ridiculous, we can't afford that!" Either way, move to the next step.
Step 4: Thank them for the support or ask for a concrete budget figure. If they approve your outrageous idea, you know what your budget is. If they don't, apologize and say that as you haven't been given a budget, you figured there were no restrictions set. They'll soon tell you your budget.
Typically, when you get senior management refusing to provide you with a definitive budget, figure it is because they don't understand marketing or have been burned in the past. So the issue is about trust, and that is your job to build. You have to be clear on what you would do with your budget, how it will benefit the company and then make good on your stated position.
Barber closes the discussion with a final thought: "Don't let 'no budget' stop you from putting together a great campaign. There are ways to get your budget and ways to market without one."
You can have a whiz-bang campaign with creativity—by taking advantage of low- and no-cost resources like press releases, customer feedback, online tools and contests. Plus, it never hurts to attempt to get a bigger budget.
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